Vagabonding Field Reports: Extra servings of history and kielbasa in Poland
This includes $27/day for living and exploring, plus an additional $8/day to maintain full connectivity with my business remotely.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Dozens of giant statues and chapels made completely out of salt. Yes, I licked one. And yes, it was salty. The Wieliczka (pronounced Viel-eech-ka) Salt Mine, just outside of Krakow, is a seemingly endless underground labyrinth of tunnels and chambers built in the 13th century. Excavated by hand, it is over 300km long and over 300m deep. The miners used the salt as their canvas in their free time and carved statues of important Polish heroes and chapels that are still being used to this day.
Describe a typical day:
I wake up with the sunrise and have a traditional Polish breakfast of kielbasa, hams, cheeses, boiled eggs and bread with my hosts. I then grab a cup of coffee, catch up on emails and organize any work requests that came in during the night. Then, I either go into the local manufacturing company’s office where I am volunteering my consulting services, or find another place to work for a few hours. Once I am finished with my work for the morning, I go explore, talk to people, study the language, go for a jog or find a nice café or pub in the town square to read and write in. Afterward, I enjoy a lively dinner with my local hosts full of great food and conversation. Because Poland is 6-9 hours ahead of the States, depending on the time zone, I do not typically have too many work commitments until after dinner. After dinner, I usually chat with my hosts, take a few conference calls and finish up a few work projects before heading to bed.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
I was fortunate to have a cup of coffee with one of the most influential economists in Poland. He had been an advisor to the Prime Ministers of several former Soviet Union countries as they transitioned to market-based economies. We had a great discussion as he explained his views on the cultural and geopolitical reasons why Poland emerged as one of the most successful post-Communist countries and why it was the only country in Europe to avoid a recession during the global financial crisis.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I love the Polish character. The country has endured more invasion, occupation and partition than most other countries in its time. Having been destroyed and rebuilt several times has left it a strong and resilient nation with a spirit for freedom and national pride. And despite all the country has experienced in its past, Poles remain very warm and generous people. The Lonely Planet said it best, “even if you protest profusely, you will be forced to polish off a bottle of vodka or two, eat plate after plate of bigos (cabbage and meat stew), and join intense discussions on philosophy and politics, but it’s comforting to know that it’s all done with a love of life and an appreciation for the present, because no-one can be sure what tomorrow will bring.”
I dislike the fact that I know just enough Polish to handle basic conversation, but am unable to communicate beyond that. And since so many people speak English, and see me as an opportunity to practice, I rarely am challenged to broaden my vocabulary.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Crossing the border into Ukraine with a borrowed car was quite challenging. The border patrol officers made me wait and answer questions for hours. They pulled me into an office and asked me dozens of questions. A few of them appeared to be tip-toeing the line of preventing a car theft and trying to get a bribe. However, after a lot of patience and a few jokes, they became increasingly friendly with me and even offered to take me out for beers in Lviv. While my patience was originally challenged trying to convince them that they didn’t have any reason to prevent me from crossing the border, I finally realized that they were perhaps just bored and looking for conversation outside of their normal routine.
What new lesson did you learn?
While in Poland, I did some digging into my family tree. I was able to trace it back six generations. I heard a full range of stories and descriptions of my ancestors. Some were inspiring, such as those who risked their lives to hide Polish Jews at their farm during World War II. Some were tragic, such as those who were executed by Germans in the town square. And some were lighter, such as everyone unanimously describing one of my great grandfathers simply as “well, he liked women and vodka.” However, whatever the situation was, I noticed that everyone’s life was described in one to three sentences. This provided me with a valuable perspective, that regardless of the many things we do and intend to do in our life, and how many more words we think it deserves, it will all be summarized in 1-3 sentences! Thinking about how I will one day be described made me realize even more how I need to live my life with purpose, character and with no regrets… yet with the humble perspective that it will still only be a few sentences.
Africa (most likely South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya). I structured a creative flight plan where I can fly from Poland to Dublin, Ireland (with a 3 day layover) to Dubai, UAE (with another 3 day layover) to Cape Town, South Africa for less money that it would cost to fly directly from Poland to Cape Town. This will enable me to save money AND get a taste of two other countries along the way. Perhaps I will have a Guiness in Ireleand, do some indoor skiing in Dubai and go on a Safari in Africa… all in one week! A little extra research can really pay off when traveling. If interested, you can follow my trip on Facebook, Twitter or my blog.